Rs. 2,35,000 a phial drug causes a tug of war

By Dilanthi Jayamanne

More accusations were leveled at the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) with the shortage of a ‘named-patient’ drug at the National Cancer Institute, Maharagama.

Informed sources said yesterday said that the problem had cropped up as the drug had not been re-registered by the NMRA. It was usually recommended for head-neck cancers. Therefore, it had been out of stock for the past few months while there were a large number of patients in need of it, they said.

Immediate Past President of the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists (SLCO), Dr. Mahendra Perera alleged that the oncologists, too, had tried to impress upon the NMRA the urgent need for the drug. Those were patients battling for their life. But, the NMRA had decided that the drug was too expensive to be imported. They considered it a palliative drug.

The Ministry had been ready to authorise the importation, but the NMRA was dragging its feet over re-registration, he alleged adding that the NMRA should at least pay heed to the opinion of clinicians.

Medical sources said that the drug had earlier been purchased by the Medical Supplies Division(MSD) which at the time had also dragged its feet over approving the importation of the drug. "The fact is that they are not the people who see the patient and his or her suffering. Nor do they have to meet the patients relatives who were desperate.'

Later on, however the purchasing of the ‘Named -Patient’ drugs were handed to the Cancer Institute. Sources said that a phial of drug cost approximately Rs. 2,35,000.

NMRA Chairman, Lal Jayakody, contacted for comment, said that there were questions regarding the efficacy of the drug. It was not recommended by the drug authorities in the US, Canada, Singapore or in the European Union. Only Cuba was using it at present.

He said that the clinicians and the importer had been requested for more information on the drug.

Sources at the NMRA said that the government had spent Rs. 150 million last year to import the particular ‘named-patient’ drug. They said that 90 percent of the budgetary allocations for the Cancer Institute for drug purchasing had also been taken up by the particular ‘named -patient’ drug. He said the NMRA had helped the government save a lot money and prevented Sri Lankans being used as guinea pigs by medicinal drug manufacturers and importers.


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